for full Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying times
Nico Rosberg has put himself in prime position to extend his lead in the Formula 1 World Championship standings after snatching pole position in an eventful qualifying session for the Chinese Grand Prix while his main title rival Lewis Hamilton starts last after suffering more technical issues.
With qualifying marking a return to the familiar knockout format of 2015 – replacing the much maligned elimination format of the opening two rounds -, tricky track conditions and unexpected problems for Hamilton conspired to make it an entertaining session from start to finish.
Indeed, with Hamilton already destined to start five positions lower than where he qualified due to a pre-event gearbox change, the defending champion will start last regardless after an ERS issue was uncovered during his first laps of Q1. Despite Mercedes' best efforts to fix it during a protracted red flag period, Hamilton's car would be down on power too much to attempt a fast lap.
As such, pole position looked set to come down to a battle between Rosberg and the Ferraris, with Kimi Raikkonen seemingly the driver to beat after a rapid first effort in Q3 put him in position to secure his first F1 pole position since the 2008 French Grand Prix.
However, Rosberg would respond on his final flying effort with an inch-perfect effort of 1min 35.402s, making up significant time in the final sector especially to put himself five tenths clear.
With all eyes on the following Raikkonen, the Finn however failed to improve after running wide at the hairpin and Sebastian Vettel – who only completed a single lap in Q3 – also unable to come close on his latter effort, Rosberg was left to celebrate a 23rd career pole by a comfortable margin.
Indeed, with Ferrari flopping with its final effort, it opened the door for Daniel Ricciardo to make his mark with a marvellous effort to secure an unexpected front row for Red Bull, squeezing ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel for second place.
On row three, Valtteri Bottas starts ahead of Daniil Kvyat, ahead of Sergio Perez, and the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen. Nico Hulkenberg rounds out the top ten in the second Force India, but faces a penalty after a wheel came loose from his car at the end of Q2 and forced the session to be red flagged. Stewards have confirmed he will be investigated as a result of the unsafe release to the circuit.
With Hulkenberg's drama forcing Q2 to be stopped early and not restarted, he denied drivers in the drop zone to make one last attempt at reaching the top ten. It meant Felipe Massa lost out in 11th, along with both Mclarens, Fernando Alonso leading Jenson Button in 12th as the Spaniard aired his evident frustration on the team radio at the truncated session.
Romain Grosjean starts from 14th, the Haas seemingly less well suited to the Shanghai circuit this weekend, while Sauber got both of its cars through to Q2 for the first time this year with Marcus Ericsson heading Felipe Nasr.
Despite anticipated rain, qualifying began in largely dry conditions, save for damp patches still in evidence under the two large bridges that stretch across the home straight. Crucially, the first also featured a bump that would catch out the slick-shod Manor of Pascal Wehrlein as he opened DRS, the German losing control of his car and collecting the barrier to force a lengthy red flag period as marshals attempted to dry the patch.
With Wehrlein and Hamilton sidelined by their respective issues, Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Gutierrez also fell at the first hurdle, though both managed a respectable performance given neither had completed a dry weather lap before qualifying having been sidelined by issues on Friday, each out-qualifying Jolyon Palmer and Rio Haryanto.